NL Central Heat Check: Word Association

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Let’s play a game, shall we? So many recent sports stories have been so serious, all scandals and lost innocence and Tom Brady talking about balls without a hint of irony.

It’s summer, a time of the year to savor. The NBA and NHL have finally wrapped up their marathon playoff brackets, and NFL training camps are still a ways off, no matter what ESPN would have you believe.

So let’s loosen things up.

Close your eyes, empty your mind. When I say “St. Louis Cardinals,” what’s the first thing that pops into your head—up, up, up, no second-guessing. Go on instinct, trust your gut.

This is a polarizing division. If it weren’t for the Brewers, it might be the very best in baseball. Let’s get all these feelings out in the open right now so we can sit back and enjoy the rest of this season.

This is National League Central word association.

St. Louis Cardinals: Cheaters
Sorry, Best Fans. When the words “FBI” and “hacking investigation” get thrown out there, nobody much cares for nuance. Ask FIFA how many people have given it the benefit of the doubt since plainclothes police officers raided a high-end Zurich hotel and necessitated the creative use of some bed sheets.

Maybe it really isn’t that big of a deal. Maybe it’s all just a big misunderstanding, and maybe every team does it but only the Cardinals got caught.

Regardless, when you spend years preaching the gospel of Winning the Right Way, don’t be surprised when the knives come out if that turns out to not be totally true.

And you thought goody-two-shoes Jim Tressel was hypocritical.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Loose
For a team that carried two decades of losing around its collective neck like a millstone for so many years, it’s remarkable how quickly this group of Pirates has changed the culture of the club.

This team is all group outfield celebrations and Gregory Polanco trying to gun out the lead runner just in case and Josh Harrison foolishly try to turn that single into a double. It starts at the top—Andrew McCutchen, even when he’s not playing well, is a particularly exuberant type of athlete.

Time will tell whether they’ll tighten up down the stretch, as they did in that fateful Busch Stadium sweep at the beginning of last October. But for now, these Pirates are a joy to watch.

Chicago Cubs: Young
Nearly every conversation about the Cubs inevitably turns to how well positioned they are for the future. Theo Epstein has worked his magic again, these aren’t your grandpa’s Cubs, Kris Bryant is a future MVP.

The hundredth-year anniversary of the team’s last World Series title is behind them, but this team is in no hurry. Success is just a matter of time.

That type of rhetoric, though, ignores the fact the Chicago might be ready to compete right now. Its fast start wasn’t a fluke, and even if the Cardinals have steadily pulled away from the rest of the division, the Cubs should be in the Wild Card mix for the duration.

Cincinnati Reds: Confused
Wait, are we rebuilding or not? Is it foolhardy to push all your chips to the center of the table right now, in this division? At least we’re trying, right? That’s more than the Bengals used to be able to say.

Man, that roster is starting to look old, isn’t it? Have we missed our window? Mes and Homer and Cozart come back next year? Can we at least tread water until then?

Milwaukee Brewers: Bad
I don’t have much to add here, but it is crazy how quickly the wheels have fallen off. The Brew Crew won the division in 2011—they reached the NL Championship Series, for goodness sakes.

As with most things, I blame Ryan Braun and his dark cloud of residual karma. Perhaps the Cardinals should trade for him.

Matt Pentz is a Nuxhall Way contributor and a reporter for The Seattle Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattpentz.

This post has been updated to reflect the date of the Cubs last World Series title. Sorry, Cubs fans.

 

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